What We’re Thankful For

Being abroad is hard on Thanksgiving, probably harder than on any other holiday. After all, here in Germany it’s just another Thursday full of work and errands and all the usual mid-week hassles. Years ago in Edinburgh I tried to make Thanksgiving Thursday something special, to celebrate the holiday no matter how many logistical hurdles I had to battle. But feasting just wasn’t the same when there were only two of us eating, there were only a couple of frantic hours to cook, and I knew I couldn’t overdo it since I’d have to drag myself out of bed the next morning and go to work. Trying to celebrate that way only made me miss Thanksgiving even more.

Just because we’re not feasting today doesn’t mean we’re not giving thanks, though, and this year, we have even more than usual to be grateful for. In addition to our health, home, family and friends, we have been blessed with a brand-new addition to our household, a beautiful, gentle soul who came into our lives a few short days ago and has already stolen our hearts. Her name is Lily.

Lily is a galgo, otherwise known as a Spanish greyhound. Galgos and greyhounds are close siblings, but not identical; galgos are a little bit smaller, and not quite as fast, though they can still reach blazing-fast speeds of up to 40mph (60kmh)! And character-wise they are said to be every bit as calm, gentle, quiet and loving as their racing brethren, which we can now personally attest to.

Unfortunately, though, the story of galgos is a sad one, and though it doesn’t have anything to do with food, I think it’s worth telling. While racing greyhounds in the U.S. and U.K. are generally well-treated at the track (as sick and injured dogs don’t win many races), this is not the case for galgos. In Spain galgos are used as hunting dogs, particularly in the south where rural dwellers breed them to hunt rabbits and small game. Unfortunately, these breeders are rarely interested in their galgos’ welfare, and weak animal rights legislation perpetuates a staggering amount of abuse. Throughout the hunting season galgos are kept in squalid conditions with little more than bread and water for nourishment, the idea being that hunger and hardship will make them more eager predators. They are also routinely beaten to ensure obedience, and worst of all, at the end of each hunting season, to avoid having to spend further money on their upkeep, they are killed. When I stumbled upon this article describing how, I nearly cried. Those that are spared death are simply abandoned, thrown down wells or deliberately crippled so they won’t be able to find their way home again. Every day galgos turn up at shelters having suffered these miserable fates.

We had long planned to adopt an ex-racing greyhound, but the more I learned about the plight of galgos, the more I knew I wanted to give a home to one of these poor creatures. There are many organizations throughout Europe committed to their rescue, the biggest being the Spanish-based Scooby Medina with branches in many EU countries (and some partners in the U.S. too!). In the end we went through a German organization that works with a small shelter in Andalusia since they are able to give us a much more personalized assessment of their dogs’ characters, an important consideration when, like us, you’re new to the breed.

Adopting a rescued dog is always a gamble, and particularly with galgos many of them have been deeply traumatized (though fortunately with galgos this manifests itself as fear rather than aggression). With Lily, thankfully, we seem to have hit the jackpot; not only has she been a model houseguest (no accidents! no barking! no chewing up the furniture!), she shows no signs of fear or shyness around people (update: I spoke too soon on this one. It seems that the more attached she gets to us, the shyer she is around others. When my aunt came to visit she cowered in the corner the entire weekend. Sigh… Looks like we’ll have to keep working on it). That’s not to say she doesn’t have her quirks. She snores like a freight train (even sometimes with her eyes open), she regards the stuffed toys we bought her like they’re aliens from another world, she doesn’t like peanut butter (!), and she’s very skittish around unfamiliar things (which, we’re discovering, is just about everything: busses, bicycles, joggers, stairs, blenders, plastic bags…). Unfortunately she also came to us with a bad infection from her recent spaying, and has had to endure a couple of painful procedures at the vet. She was such a trusting, uncomplaining patient, though, that even the vet was impressed. “You really won the lotto with that dog,” she told us on our last visit, looking at Lily a tad too covetously for my taste.

And perfect for us, she seems to be a bit of a gourmet too. She had no interest at all in packaged food, so we tried her out on what in animal circles is known as a BARF diet – short for Biologically Appropriate Raw Food. As soon as she started finding chicken hearts and pork neck bones in her food bowl instead of kibble, she turned from a finicky nibbler into a lip-smacking gourmande. She does prefer everything sprinkled with a pinch of garlic powder, though, but I can hardly say I blame her. In fact I’m kind of proud. The only thing is that I wish her favorite snack wasn’t something called pansen, which are some sort of dried cow innards that stink to high heaven and back again. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get the stench out of our apartment.

Anyhow, I’m sure you’ll be hearing plenty more about Lily. For now please get back to your turkeys and stuffing – or whatever else you’re filling your plate with on this crisp fall Thursday. If you are celebrating Thanksgiving, I really hope it’s the best ever, chock-full of the food, family and animals you love most.

A few more links:

Galgo Rescue International
Greyhound Pets of America
Greyhound Rescue UK
Greyhounds in Need (UK organization dealing with both Galgos and Greys)
An Introduction to Raw Feeding